Thursday, October 22, 2020

Charm City Kings Rules With Layered Characters and Memorable Motorbikes

Now that the pandemic has been going on for seven months and movie theaters have remained closed, some real tough choices are now getting made about what movies stay in theaters and which ones go straight to streaming. At the start of the pandemic, it was mostly movies like The Lovebirds, Scoob! or My Spy, stuff that probably would have flopped theatrically anyway, getting burned off. But now, the pandemic rages on and, most importantly, movie studios are back to work making new movies. With new films on the horizon, there isn't room on the calendar for all features to get theatrical releases. 

That means perfectly good movies made with the theatrical experience in mind, like Charm City Kings,  have been left to debut on HBO Max. A shame, but at least the movies good. Said movie concerns Mouse (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He harbors dreams of one day becoming a veterinarian, but for now, he'll settle for ambitions related to riding on motorbikes. His neighbors that ride around on dirtbikes have the kind of freedom that he can only dream of. One of those bikers is Blax (Meek Mill), a recently paroled ex-criminal who now works out of a maintenance shop.

Mouse begins working with Blax in the hopes of securing his own bike, though Blax still attracts the wrong kind of crowd around his shop. That crowd might be able to help the financial situation Mouse's family is in...but at what cost? Charm City Kings is a coming-of-age yarn informed by compelling specific details related to the world of motorbikes. The elaborate scenes demonstrating the kind of stunts and tricks these motorbike drivers can pull off, particularly a set piece involving a pair of riders evading the cops, make it apparent why Mouse would be so enamored with this culture. Mouse is so often anchored to the Earth. But these riders, they seem to defy gravity itself.

Sequences depicting these stunts and motorbike accomplishments are filmed in a crisp manner under the direction of filmmaking Angel Manuel Soto and cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi. Leaning heavily on wide shots, as opposed to more intimate handheld camerawork, is an especially good visual detail. That trait lends a sense of majesty in watching the various motorbike riders do something as simple as zoom down a street while also giving you an appreciation for the wider world that Mouse inhabits. As trite as it sounds, Baltimore is basically a character unto itself here and the wide framing allows one to appreciate every detail of the city.

As a whole, Charm City Kings is a snazzy-looking production, with recurring use of measured long takes being especially memorable. The script, credited to Sherman Payne, is a bit more basic, but it still proves compelling. Really, the only area where it's predictability feels especially troublesome is with the supporting character of Nicki. She's Mouse's new neighbor who initially functions as a love interest before Mouse becomes enamored in a more dangerous lifestyle that makes him cold and distant from Nicki. You can guess where their storyline goes from the moment she walks on-screen, right down to a tidy resolution that betrays the interestingly complicated nature of Charm City Kings.

Luckily, Payne fares much better with nuance in the rest of Charm City Kings' script, particularly when it comes to Blax. Here is a great example of a character who's able to function as both as an obstacle and someone you can empathize with. Sometimes, you want Mouse to just abandon Blax, other times, Blax feels like the perfect father figure Mouse has been missing. You can see all kinds of sides on this character in how Blax is written and Meek Mills gives him an appropriately layered performance. The characters of Charm City Kings are as layered as its long takes. That makes for drama as compelling as a particularly gnarly demonstration of motorbike stunts.

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